What Is the Bible’s View?
Pornography—Is It Really Harmful?
IN RECENT years major cities throughout the earth have been hit by an avalanche of books, pictures, films, plays and shows that portray sexual relations as a form of entertainment. This is called “pornography” and has become a multimillion-dollar business in the United States alone.
Some argue that pornography is harmful but others claim that it does no harm. In fact, the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, appointed by the president of the United States, expressed the view that American adults should “be allowed to read or see any sexual materials they wish.”
What is the truth of the matter? Is pornography really harmful? To answer that question correctly we must go to someone who has full authority to speak on the subject. That is why the Bible’s view is so important, for the Holy Scriptures contain “God’s word,” not that of imperfect men.—Eph. 6:17.
The Bible shows that Jehovah God created the reproductive organs to be used in honorable marriage. It is, therefore, quite normal for individuals to want to know about their proper function. But a person must exercise caution as to where he obtains information about sex. Much that is written about it is inaccurate and goes contrary to God’s Word. Pornography is an example.
But does the Bible speak of pornography? It repeatedly warns against por·neiʹa, and that is a Greek word related to pornography. Greek lexicographers tell us that por·neiʹa refers to illicit sexual intercourse in general, without more precise definition. It is broad in meaning and includes “‘unnatural vice,’ . . . sodomy.” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) Because of this, Bible translators render this word variously as “fornication,” “gross immorality,” “sexual immorality,” “sexual sins,” or by similar expressions.
The Bible has much to say on this subject. At Ephesians 5:5, we read: “No fornicator [porʹnos] or unclean person or greedy person—which means being an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of the Christ and of God.”
Someone may object that there is a difference between reading or viewing pornography and actually committing sexual sins. But is the difference really that great? Jesus stated that “out of the heart come . . . fornications” and that one could even commit adultery “in his heart.” (Matt. 15:19; 5:28) This is because desire originates in the heart. If one indulges one’s desire for something that God prohibits, by reading about it or dwelling upon it mentally, that desire can become overpowering. It can get to the point where one actually commits the sin “in his heart.” How so? Because he has voluntarily enticed himself to the point where he becomes fully motivated to do what he has been thinking about and he will do so if he can find the opportunity.—Jas. 1:13-15.
With good reason the Bible gives similar counsel at Colossians 3:5: “Deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” How can one succeed in this? Ephesians 5:3 directs: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you.” This would include all ‘mention’ of such things, whether in conversation, in films, on stage or in print with a view to deriving sensual pleasure therefrom. So the Bible does not simply prohibit outright acts of sexual immorality. It also cautions against the steps leading up to such acts.
Now, what about pornography? Can anyone deny that pornography contains mention of “fornication and uncleanness of every sort”? This, in itself, makes it harmful. But the harm does not stop there. In an interview a convicted sex offender admitted: “You want to practice what you’ve been reading.” Another said of erotic movies: “I would go to one, then go out and attack some woman.”
Of course, not all individuals are so readily influenced to commit perversion. Nevertheless, Professor Ernest van den Haag of New York University cautioned: “Too many grownups are far from the self-restrained healthy types envisaged by much libertarian theory. They may easily be given a last (or first) push by obscene literature.”
Author Gladys Denny Shultz mentions a further harmful effect of pornography: “It gives a false, lying impression of sex and the way normal, civilized men and women behave. The unavoidable fact is that pornography sets up sexually sick people as models of behavior, and emphasizes bestiality, perversion, cruelty—as if that were the norm.” Yet, at Ephesians 4:25, God’s Word instructs: “Now that you have put away falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor.”
The Bible encourages its readers: “Above all things, have intense love for one another.” (1 Pet. 4:8) Pornography works directly against such admonition. In what way? Psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham stated: “By and large, the trend in pornographic literature is toward sadism, toward brutality. . . . There have been cases of sadistic murder where it was proved in the courtroom that the murderer used sadistic pornography as a textbook.” Do you wish to saturate your mind with material that has had such a damaging effect upon others?
Pornography can even make one guilty of the sin of idolatry. How can that be? Because it promotes a form of covetousness, “which is idolatry.” (Col. 3:5) The Interpreter’s Bible explains the meaning of the Greek word for “covetousness” (ple·o·ne·xiʹa) as follows: “‘sensual self-indulgence,’ which gratifies self at whatever cost to others.” Ple·o·ne·xiʹa is “concerned with nothing but the satisfaction of its own impulses.”
Pornography promotes this type of selfishness. Author Irving Kristol, writing in the New York Times Magazine, explains: “The sexual pleasure one gets from pornography and obscenity is autoerotic [self-generated and directed to oneself] . . .; put bluntly, it is a masturbatory exercise of the imagination, when it is not masturbation pure and simple.” Thus pornography can cause a person to make an object of worship out of his own fleshly appetite. In effect, he makes an idol out of himself.
Pornography is indeed harmful. It gives a lying impression of God’s gift of sex and its proper use in honorable marriage; it leads to sexual sins committed either “in [the] heart” or out in the open (Matt. 5:28); it promotes sadism and brutality and can even cause one to become a worshiper of oneself. How loving of Jehovah God to warn us against it and to provide in his Word things ‘true, of serious concern, righteous, chaste, virtuous and praiseworthy’!—Phil. 4:8.2